GWEN IFILL, “WASHINGTON WEEK” MODERATOR: Terrorism and its consequences abroad; politics and its consequences at home -- tonight on WASHINGTON WEEK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here in Europe, we believe in freedom of expression, in freedom of press and in freedom of thought, and we cannot be silenced with these cowardly acts.
IFILL (voice-over): A deadly and bloody attack on a satirical newspaper, hostages taken at a kosher market, and a renewed debate about homegrown terrorism, this time in France. And the world is watching.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want the people of France to know that the United States stands with you today, stands with you tomorrow.
IFILL: In an instant, fears of Islamic extremism are once again front and center. In Washington, a Republican-led Congress returns to work.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The battle of ideas never ends, and frankly never should. As speaker, all I ask and frankly expect, is that we disagree without being disagreeable.
IFILL: But there's a lot to disagree about -- from the Keystone pipeline, to health care, to taxes and trade.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Listening to President Obama, you could almost get whiplash.
OBAMA: There will be some pitched battles, but I’m also confident that there are enormous areas of potential agreement that would deliver for the American people.
IFILL: We look ahead tonight with Pete Williams, justice correspondent for NBC News, Nancy Youssef, senior national security correspondent for “The Daily Beast”, Michael Crowley, senior foreign affairs correspondent for “Politico”, and Susan Davis, chief congressional correspondent for "USA Today”.
ANNOUNCER: Award winning reporting and analysis covering history as it happens, from our nation’s capitol, this is WASHINGTON WEEK with Gwen Ifill.
Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
IFILL: Good evening.
We have been here before, recoiling with shock, bracing for backlash. This time, ground zero is Paris, where 10 journalists, three police officers, four hostages, and three attackers have been killed during 72 hours of mayhem.
French President Francois Hollande addressed the nation tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): France has not finished with this threat, so I want to call on you for vigilance, unity, and mobilization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
IFILL: The attacks in Paris have reverberated around the world, raising and re-raising old questions here in Washington.
Pete, Nancy, and Michael have been covering every angle of the story this week.
So, what do we know tonight, Pete?
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Well, for all intents and purposes, it's over much the two responsible for the Wednesday attack on the newspaper died today in a shootout with police. An associate of theirs took hostages at a Jewish market. He was killed, some of the hostages as well.
But his wife remains at large and authorities would like to find her for two reasons. One is, they are afraid that she might commit some sort of attack. But, secondly, because all the other participants are dead, she might have valuable intelligence information that they are very much eager to get.
And the other I guess major development you’d say is that the al Qaeda group in Yemen made a public statement late today saying this was all their idea. Now, there is no way to know whether it really was all their idea or not, or whether this was a statement that they put out after the fact based on what was publicly known. But they do definitely seem to be connections between this attack and the al Qaeda group in Yemen.
IFILL: And one of the connections is that we know that one of these brothers actually travelled to Yemen and met with people and claims that he crossed paths with Anwar al-Awlaki, who is one of the leaders who has now -- of al Qaeda -- who has now passed away.
But I wonder, Nancy, based on that knowledge and that knowledge of his movements, how he was able to hide in plain sight? Both of these brothers were on people’s radar.
NANCY YOUSSEF, THE DAILY BEAST: It’s a great question because, in fact, they've been involved in jihadist activist for 10 years, talking about it publicly to journalists. Cherif, the younger of the two, had been arrested for trying to get two others out of prison. Said, the older one, was known to have gone to Yemen, spent months training on weapons. They had publicly proclaimed for a long time that they're interested in carrying out jihadist attacks.
And so, in France, their approach is somewhat different than the U.S. one. When Cherif was charged and convicted, he was sentenced to three years, only served 18 months.
The other challenge is, how do law enforcement groups divide their resources when there are thousands and thousands of people claiming to be jihadists? And in this case, these guys had stayed low for three years.
IFILL: Well, that’s the question that’s true not only in France and a lot of other threatened places, but also here, Michael. How do you prioritize risk? How does the U.S. in watching this -- tonight, there is a warning for Americans traveling abroad, a caution, I guess -- how do you prioritize risk in terms of who to watch and how to watch them?
MICHAEL CROWLEY, POLITICO: I think we're still trying to figure that out. We have the same problem that the French have, which is we just don't have the resources. So, we have more manpower. It's a bigger country, but we have more people to keep an eye on.
And, you know, we have a similar example where in the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston marathon bomber, was on the radar of law enforcement, was interviewed by the FBI and they said basically came away saying, OK, we're a little worried about him, but he's not somebody we have to monitor all the time, we have a lot of other people to worry about.
And, you know, I did a story for “Politico” this week that looked at some of the Obama administration's efforts to counter violent extremists domestically. One thing that the administration has done is to try to encourage people in any community there might be extremism, and the Muslim community in particular the one we're worried about at the moment, come forward if you see someone behaving, you know, oddly or more confrontationally.
But I talked to a former FBI guy who said, you know, you're just going to have tons of false leads and false reports. Anytime somebody is losing their temper, somebody is going to make a phone call, the FBI can’t run all those leads down. So, it's just really hard.
IFILL: So, Sue, you can ask (ph) whatever you want, I do want do ask, Pete, this because you’ve been following what they’re thinking about in law enforcement, Justice Department in particular -- how do you decide who to follow and who not to follow? How do you decide who's suspicious and who’s not in a case like this?
WILLIAMS: It's the hardest thing. In Boston, you had this sketchy lead from the Russians who never fleshed it out, thought they might go radical if they went to Russia.
Here, you had a person who the French had known had gone to Yemen. Another, his brother, that they had been arrested twice, once for trying to, you know, being recruited to go to Iraq and trying to go there, and then prison breakout scheme.
And they say, you know, we did watch them. We watched them for a long time. We had other priorities, they seemed to sort of clean up their act that we decided to -- we had to turn elsewhere.
For every person that the U.S. wants to do surveillance on, you don't want them to know you’re surveilling them, it takes at least a dozen people. So, it's very manpower-intensive and there’s simply is no way to keep them.
So, it's a combination of things. It’s all assessment. It's all judgment and, of course, it's not perfect. This is the big question the French are going have to answer, and every person in law enforcement tonight is saying -- there but for the grace of God go we all.
SUSAN DAVIS, USA TODAY: My question is about the response. Do we have any sense about both how France or the international community is going to respond to these attacks? One thing that comes to mind is the ongoing air campaigns in Syria against ISIL, what’s going on in Iraq to combat the rise of al Qaeda. It does raise this question of what do we do from the home base of where it’s coming from?
YOUSSEF: Well, the challenge is, how do you respond when they're local residents in one's own community? And, conversely, if one reacts too much and isolates them too much that draws them even further in jihadism. Do you cut off their access to the Internet? Because so many people are recruited that way. Do you have a public relations campaign?
The other balance is not that there’s an effort, particularly here, to not ostracize people or create an environment in which Muslims overall feel unwelcome. So, it becomes a real dance.
If anything, the response is an intelligence one. That is reassessing how the intelligence is handled. Reassessing who’s given priority and who’s not.
I think one of the biggest takeaways to this is so often when people lay low for several years, people assume they've walked away from jihadism, which some people do. And what the Paris attacks warn us is that, in fact, they might be plotting.
CROWLEY: I also think that you’re going to see that the tide will shift back at least in the short term toward the people who want to err on the side of constricting civil liberties. So, we've had this big debate about the NSA in particular and surveillance, and I think that the people who are -- the kind of civil liberties left is going to have a harder time making their case in a climate like this, where people are very afraid.
I also just think that public opinion for getting more involved in Iraq and Syria will probably grow, even though it appears that the threat here was tied to Yemen and al Qaeda, which is separate from ISIS, which is a group that split from al Qaeda. I still think that in general, there is going to be a general sense of fear and anxiety and a willingness to support military action against terrorists who might threaten Western countries.
IFILL: I want to ask about al Qaeda, because I think for a lot of Americans who have been paying attention at all, there’s been all this talk about the Islamic State group for the last several months at least, if not the last year. And now, all of a sudden, al Qaeda is back front and center. It turns out they never went away?
YOUSSEF: They never went away. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that we’re talking about now, their goal is to create a caliphate in the Middle East. At the same time, what they’ve been trying to do is recruit people in the West to attack the West, people who they see as infidels. And one of the ways that they were doing it was through this magazine they put, “Inspire” magazine, in which they listed specific attacks, how to create bombs, and whatnot.
So, I think the focus was so much on ISIS because of the Islamic State because there is truly a war there and a battle for a state, and al Qaeda hadn't reached that level yet, but they -- it's been something that’s brewing for years.
And remember in 2011, when the older of the two brothers went to Yemen, it was the height of the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda. We think of it as dead for years, or gone for a long time, but this is something that's popped up and died down for the last decade.
IFILL: And they put a statement tonight that they were taking responsibility.
WILLIAMS: The al Qaeda headquarters is gone. It’s all the franchises that are causing the problems.
And the Yemen one has been very aggressive about trying to attack the West. Remember, it was the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda that was responsible for the aborted underwear bomb plot, a plane that came into Detroit, inspired the attack on the Army post in Texas.
And they're -- you know, what a difference five or 10 years make? Number one, there are just so many more people to keep an eye on. People are pouring into France, Algerian radicals, people coming back from Iraq and Syria.
It has, as one former prosecutor said, become a black hole sucking people in from all over the world -- huge challenge for the French. But, secondly, this much more aggressive propaganda effort. You see it with ISIS. You see it with this al Qaeda magazine, “Inspire”, that they put out. One of their recent issues had the editor of the French newspaper as someone who should be targeted for criticizing the Prophet Muhammad.
CROWLEY: And you don't need a subscription to this magazine. It's not hard to find. I mean, you can download it and anyone when they’re done watching the show can go online and get a PDF, and it will be in their laptop in 30 seconds. And the ubiquity of this kind of radical propaganda, and the accessibility, an unemployed guy in the suburbs of Paris sitting home can read all this stuff in his smartphone immediately. And I really think that’s raised the threat level.
IFILL: And that feeds the home-grown terrorism which is what we're more aware of now than we have been.
WILLIAMS: Right. Although I would say, this does not appear to be that kind of thing, because as you pointed out, these are two people who have been at it for over a decade, in a cell of people that are in Paris, who tried to do a whole bunch of things, and the third person who was involved in taking the hostages at the market was involved in one of their earlier plots. They’ve all been in this together for quite a while.
YOUSSEF: It's interesting the difference of timelines that we’re working with, because in the U.S., we think three years, a group must be dead. It appears that three years ago, they alleged that they had started plotting the attack on the satirical newspaper’s offices.
And so, one of the challenges is timelines. How -- what Westerners think of as a long time and what these -- what members of these groups think of as a long time. Often, these are plotted out years in advance.
And for Americans and Westerners that seems like an eternity, but they're on a different timeline than the West.
IFILL: From the point of view of the White House, of American citizens, of American national security apparatus, are there lessons to be learned? Why -- first question, could it happen here? Could something like this easily happen here?
WILLIAMS: Of course.
IFILL: That’s the big question, right?
WILLIAMS: Of course.
IFILL: That’s why it’s called --
WILLIAMS: This is an attack with rifles. Of course, it could happen.
IFILL: But, here’s the next question then -- what are we doing to protect ourselves against something like this happening here? What is the strategy? And you wrote about this a little, Michael -- what is the strategy the U.S. has in mind, this administration has in mind, to try to head that off?
CROWLEY: Yes. So, shortly after President Obama came into office, we had several close calls, attempted domestic terror plots. There was one that would have exploded an SUV in Times Square. I think a lot of people kind of forget about that now, which was nearly a big bomb going off in Times Square on a Saturday evening in May.
CROWLEY: And the White House officials say, we got to get our arms around what we're doing to combat domestic radicalization, try to stop this, get more information about it, and they realized that their programs were a mess, they were disorganized. They were disjointed.
White House put out a strategy. Denis McDonough, who is now president’s chief of staff, kind of took control of this, and in August 2011, they put out a strategy that basically directed principally U.S. attorneys, the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, to try to have better ties with local communities.
They were very careful not to single out the idea that this was Muslim communities, but I think really that was foremost in their mind. What I reported in “Politico” this week was that really people all across the spectrum just say it's not really working out. They didn't put money behind it. The bureaucracy had stalled.
A very familiar Washington story, conservatives think it's too politically correct, the people who implemented it say it’s not being put in place, civil libertarians don't like it, the Muslim community doesn't like it. I’m sympathetic because it’s a really hard problem.
IFILL: Let me ask you about that, Sue, is there resistance on Capitol Hill to this approach, let's make sure we don't get backlash from the Muslim community because we need them to be informants, basically, or let’s make sure that we find a way to get everybody on board about how one handles it, how one ends the conversation before it begins? Is there a debate at all on Capitol Hill about that?
DAVIS: Almost none. I think that there is some debate among civil libertarians more when it comes to surveillance, which is a lot of what we have to do to identify lone wolf type operators. But we saw it recently even with NSA wiretapping, the way we -- the surveillance state. Even the NYPD and police department and what they were doing in the city, surveillance programs, I think overall, it leaves a bad taste in certain lawmakers' mouths.
But on the whole, they have not cut funding for these programs. They have not done any significant legislation to rein them in. And if anything, I think there is a tacit level of support for the intelligence community to do what they believe needs to be done.
IFILL: And, probably, an event like brings that out even more?
How do you measure success, progress, comfort level in a situation like this? How does the leader of the free world come and tell people here that we're different than what happened in France?
WILLIAMS: Well, you can never do enough. It's a combination of intelligence, surveillance, community relations, trying to get people to tell you when things go wrong. And thirdly, it’s also making people who come here to the U.S. feel welcome and not estranged.
The problem is propaganda coming in saying, you know, if you are sitting there in your living room and you're not involved in jihad, then you're not very good at what you are doing and you need to get more active.
And also this “see some, say something” campaign which we hear relentlessly.
You know, very few of these things really burst out of nowhere, especially this one which may involve -- may have involved planning and coordination.
CROWLEY: Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle also. I mean, we -- to try to stop these plots before they get to our shores, we're blowing people up with drones and using special forces, but we're killing innocent people along the way. We’re engendering a lot of hatred.
Pictures on Twitter of children, sometimes they’re fabricated, but often real, killed by American armaments. And that creates hatred and creates this idea that there is an American war on Islam.
And that has blowback. How do you stop that cycle?
CROWLEY: There is no easy point to stop the cycle.
DAVIS: Can I ask you a question?
There is an American war on al Qaeda. Does this -- does this suggest that al Qaeda is resurging, is stronger? I mean, how do we gauge where we are in that fight?
YOUSSEF: Here's the problem: the wars on al Qaeda are wars of attrition. And who decides when the group has been eliminated? It's almost impossible because it’s a subjected thing. And so, in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. didn’t leave when there was an absolute decision that the wars were over. They left essentially an arbitrary date when they decided they had achieved enough attrition.
And so, the question becomes, how much can be left there that can then burst into a new kind of group?
IFILL: All right. Well, thank you. Guys. That was a very smart conversation after a very troubling week.
So, Congress came back to town this week. Its leaders declared that they were ready to act. So, today, for the 10th time, the House passed a bill demanding that the president approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. And the president's spokesman said he would veto it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: We continue to be blocked by this administration. There's already a veto threat out there, but I don't think that that threat should deter us from our initiative, both as a committee, as a Senate, and really as a Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
IFILL: Also on the docket, health care, immigration, and trade. So, why did the Republicans start with Keystone, Sue?
DAVIS: Well, I think they wanted to start with something they knew they could pass. And I think Republicans in a lot of times in recent years, particularly in the House, have been bedeviled by their own party being able to advance an agenda. This was something that not only did they know they had support for, but they knew they had bipartisan support for.
And when Republicans took over Tuesday, they took control of Congress, both John Boehner in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate have been saying that they want to prove they're a center-right governing majority. That is Mitch McConnell’s key phrase.
And, Keystone, they would point to, is one of these issues that has a filibuster-proof margin in the Senate. They had at least 60 co-sponsors. It’s had today in the House voted almost 30 Democrats, which counts as bipartisanship in the House. And they thought that was tone-setting. Not only do they believe in the policy, but they thought that was setting a tone, we're going to take bipartisan bills, we’re going to get them to the president’s desk.
The president, of course, quickly said he would veto that. And Republicans --
IFILL: But there was a court in Nebraska which actually had backed them up on this, right?
DAVIS: Well, supporters of the pipeline point to this situation that the Supreme Court of Nebraska today threw out a pending court case which the White House had been citing as a reason not to move forward on the pipeline. So, supporters of the pipeline said, you know, here we go, and the White House reiterated the veto threat.
What Republicans said is that, obviously, there is politics involved because last November when Democrats were trying pass the pipeline, I know --
DAVIS: When Democrats are trying to pass the pipeline to help Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, the White House was quiet about their veto threat. Now that Republicans are in control, they're very quick to say they're going block it. I think it’s sort of the first bite of the apple on what’s going to be a very well-exercised veto pen.
WILLIAMS: On immigration, the Republicans had wanted to maybe cut back on the budget or hold up Homeland Security.
WILLIAMS: Because it would enforce the president’s executive order. Has the whole thing with Paris changed that calculation?
DAVIS: It has. It has at least been entered into the debate. Next week, they're going to start moving forward on the Homeland Security bill. I think Republicans are going to try to put some constraints on the immigration portion of it.
They're probably not going to be successful again for that veto pen, and there has been talk of -- do Republicans really want to be engaged in a fight over Homeland Security spending at a time when we have revived this conversation about global threats and the rise of al Qaeda? And even if practically speaking, though, the Homeland Security Department will keep being funded because they would do it under what we call C.R., which is sort of keeping it running if they can't change the policy, it’s not necessary -- that's in the weeds and regular people would look at that and say, they're holding up Homeland Security funding in it, and it may not be the message the want to send.
YOUSSEF: We've talked a lot about the veto.
YOUSSEF: So, given that, where’s the -- and setting that tone, it seems like this is already a combative tone. Is that a fair assessment?
DAVIS: I think so. I mean, obviously, it's been combative for years. So, it’s just a different -- it’s a new chapter in combativeness I would say.
You know, for the White House’s part, they’ve also been very eager to engage in this. The president since the election has shown no signs of slowing down what he wants his agenda to be. Even this week, his proposal to create a two-year free funding program for community college education, which I think was something that liberals cheered, and Republicans quickly said it’s a new entitlement, we won’t do it. But in terms of the policy debate, I think that he's very eager to show where the two parties disagree.
One area where I think both sides talk about, where they might be able to find common ground is trade agreement, trade assistance, and a pending trade pact with Asian countries. That’s something that -- presidents like trade pacts regardless of what party they're in. And Republicans tend to like them more than Democrats.
So, that’s one area. But I think the tone where everybody came in and said let’s find common ground, let’s see where we can move forward --
IFILL: We know that wasn’t going to last.
DAVIS: -- we knew that wasn't going to last. And it lasted maybe 24 hours. So --
IFILL: One last -- go ahead.
CROWLEY: Yes. And about the 2016 campaign, I mean, there -- by my count, there are three senators who are going to be running for president.
CROWLEY: So, how much of this is just going to become just a stage for them, grandstanding and how much how quickly is this going to become about 2016 on Capitol Hill?
DAVIS: It’s a great question because three of those candidates, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio -- two of the three have shown they liked using the Senate floor as a platform to build national messages. So, I think that they’ll be very willing to use that platform if they do decide to run.
IFILL: And on the House side, of course, we still have a little lingering Tea Party unhappiness that we saw in the Boehner election. So much fun to watch.
Thank you all very much.
Before we go tonight, we want to take a moment to note the passing of Edward Brooke III, the first African-American elected to the Senate since Reconstruction. A champion for fair housing and a believer in the value of bipartisanship, Brooke was a liberal Republican who served the commonwealth of Massachusetts as its senator for two terms, beginning in 1966. He was 95 years old.
We've got to go for now, but we plan to keep talking, online. You can join us there on our WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra, later tonight at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. Among other things, we'll talk about the start to the Boston marathon bombing trial.
Keep up with developments with me and Judy Woodruff at the “PBS NEWSHOUR”.
And we'll see you here next week on WASHINGTON WEEK. Good night.